Starbucks Will Mainstream Mobile Payments

I previously described Starbucks as the "American Idol of mobile payments." In the same way that the TV talent show helped teach millions of Americans how to SMS several years ago Starbucks will now help make mobile payments familiar to many millions and in so doing accelerate the adoption of mobile payments more broadly in the US. 

Since 2009 Starbucks has been testing mobile payments (on smartphones) in selected locations. Now the company has decided to go national with the program. You fill your Starbucks Card via a credit card, show your app at the register and a barcode scanner debits the card/app on your phone.

iPhone Screenshot 2

For Starbucks it accomplishes both concrete and intangible objectives. First and foremost it helps create greater efficiency at the register and saves time for everyone. It's also likely to give the brand a little buzz and it may increase loyalty. 

Ultimately some chunk of the market will probably move to some form of NFC/contactless payments -- Android now has that baked in. But the infrastructure will take a few years to put in place in North America. It Asia NFC is much further along. 

In the interim this sort of "credit card on file" mobile-app will be the "onramp" to mobile payments for most Americans. In fact we'll probably look back on this initiative as the beginning of the mobile payments era in the US. 

Starbucks mobile payments is also a hybrid customer care/marketing effort in one way of looking at it. Increased customer satisfaction (presumably) driving word of mouth and novelty driving positive PR as well. 

In a couple of weeks we'll be talking about how marketing and customer care are coming together and explore novel and concrete ways in which that's happening. Join us for C3 in San Francisco Feb 2-3, 2011 -- with an incredible lineup of speakers